Aiken High culinary arts teacher Jean Gorthy once received a grant to provide basic kitchen equipment for her students.

Seven years later, “We really needed to upgrade our equipment – knives, cutting boards and baking utensils,” she said. “This can help our students with competitions.”

Thanks to a $598 donation from Public Education Partners, Gorthy and her students are getting that equipment. Gorthy received the grant through PEP's Project of the Month program.

A local education foundation, PEP is providing up to $600 to a teacher for a project, said Jeff Howell, PEP's new executive director.

“Applications for teachers are on our website (,” he said. “If we get, say, two grant requests of $250 and another of $100, we could provide all three of them.”

Those interested in providing donations to the Project of the Month program can contact Howell at 649-9040 or at

Gorthy's students will participate in competitions this year through Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

For the first time in several years, three seniors – Vanessa Cox, Alyssa Brewe and Tom Diehl – also will participate in a State ProStart event in March. In a set amount of time, they will have to prepare a meal that includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. The students also will have to budget the cost, design a menu and provide a design of their own restaurant.

“A lot of other schools have had the advantage of new equipment,” Cox said. “It's going to be beneficial to have the same equipment.”

Brewe was elected as the FCCLA state vice president last spring and attended a national conference with other classmates over the summer. She plans to go into the hospitality field.

“I had no idea how much (culinary arts) would impact my life,” Brewe said in August.

Cox plans to attend a culinary arts program in New York City next year, specializing in pastries. She finished second in the state FCCLA contest last spring in commercial baking. Cox and other students prepared lunch for the national FFA vice president and other visitors recently.

“Culinary arts has been such a fun opportunity,” she said. “I think I've done 15 events. It's great to look at people's faces as they say, 'great job.' Our classmates seem to appreciate what we do.”

Like his ProStart teammates, Diehl joined the program as a freshman, remaining in part because of the positive way Gorthy works with her students.

“I learned so much in ninth grade and more and more the next two years,” Diehl said. “I work at Newberry Hall and it's fun to work in the kitchen. I hope we'll take home first place in the ProStart competition. We're starting to work on a game plan.”